Management seminars, for long, have come to be perceived as the curative mantras of managerial ills, more so of the public sector enterprises. What with the governments too pitching in to improve their administrative functioning, the seminar halls came to be abuzz with activity and that entailed the high priests of managerial training to rub shoulders with the high and mighty. But if one thing is lacking in all this glamorous glitter, it is method.
But to have the desired effect, even the mantras, as custom ordains us, have to be chanted with appropriate intonation as otherwise they tend to be mere syllables – rhetorical but not impactful. It is apparent that the people organizing or conducting seminars somehow fail to bring this to bear in their managerial recitals. So, the benefits that are supposed to accrue to the participants and their sponsors alike from these expensive exercises are generally not commensurate with the time and money spent on them.
Broadly speaking, the managerial seminar programmes suffer from three structural defects namely, participants’ ill-mix, theoretical orientation, and follow-up lapse that are elaborated as under.
As seminars are invariably held in one metro or the other, for the participants from the remotely situated projects, it is an opportunity to breathe the city air, albeit, for a short while and for their managements, it is an opportunity to show their favour to a select few by deputing them to these training melas. What is worse, bosses tend not to disturb their day-to-day working arrangements and thus desist, wherever possible, from nominating to the seminars the vital few who shoulder the departmental burden. This short-sighted though practical approach to managing things tends to keep only the bad coins in circulation in seminar halls at the expense of the good ones. Moreover, red tape and lethargy too preclude correct selection as generally the nominating authority does not have the relevant details either of the seminar or about the participants.
So, it is not surprising that given the random selection not only are the seminar programmes thrown out of gear, but the participants also are kept out of tune with each other. This naturally inhibits programme conductors on the one hand and the participants on the other, and the whole exercise tends to lose its intended course denting its very purpose.
If practical constraints occasion ill-selection of the participants in a seminar, its theoretical orientation owes itself to the curriculum of convenience. The course designers tend to insert a theoretical leaf or two from all branches of managerial sciences, besides injecting a little bit of psycho-analysis into the tight schedule to make it generalistic in content and elitist in nature. Moreover, the paucity of effort to integrate the course content with the background and experience of the participants not to speak of earmarking the managerial goal to bring the best out of the exercise is palpable.
In this scenario seminar programmes are loaded heavily with bookish lectures that dwell at length upon the theoretical aspects of the subject. However, occasionally case studies, though of irrelevant backgrounds, are interspersed to bring a semblance of practical orientation. Invariably, seminars end up with exercises supposed to be based on simulated models “to help augment the analytical understanding of the participants.”
Seminar programmes, in the structural sense, are a sort of lecture highways with intermittent two-way outlets faculty - participant interaction in which the former is generally unaware of the specific work background and training of the latter, and that constrains the experts to analyse the issues affecting the seekers in their working. The so-called in-house development programmes, supposed to be designed to meet the specific training needs of an organization, are also no different either in content or character, and thus fare no better.
Even before the euphoria that a seminar may generate in the participants’ mind about the need to improve their work ethos dies down, they are back in their workplace, face-to face, with the realities of its rigmarole. Soon, as managements do not have a feedback system or follow-up to assess the benefits of the exercise, even for the enthusiasts among the participants the seminar becomes a thing of the past and it is back to square one.
It also seems to have escaped the attention of the powers that be that the only chance for bringing the seminar benefits back home is to depute the number one and number two officials of a department so that they are exposed together to the same way of thinking and operating back home. Likewise, when it comes to inter-departmental work improvement, proper participant mix has to be evolved based on the interaction levels of various officials.
Seminars can prove to be mere hackneyed exercises unless they are conceptually integrated into the working environment in a concerted manner. A radical change in the approach and execution of these essential exercises is needed to improve the professional outlook and work ethos of the participants on an ongoing basis. This can be brought about by a three-pronged but interrelated approach rooted in in-house training followed by seminar programmes to integrate the organizational working into the training grid.
Restructuring the Exercise
The first-step in making training more effective and equitable is to shift the focus from outstation seminars to in-house training programmes. This can be entrusted either to an outside agency or to the organization’s training department itself. In case an outside agency is involved, and preferably so till the in-house expertise is evolved, the assignment should be in the nature of a turnkey contract that includes the identification of the training needs of various working groups, designing training schedules, imparting appropriate on-job training where needed and monitoring the programme effectiveness in relation to set organizational goals.
It should be appreciated that any organization has its own work culture and managerial ethos. The programmes and goal setting should take this into account in formulating the training courses in a way to bolster the existing strengths and practices than seek to impose some alien systems, first rate though, that are bound to encounter employee resistance. If there is skepticism among managements about the practical utility of seminars in view of their failure to produce tangible gains, it is because the training structures are not built on this valid foundation.
It should be appreciated that any organization comprises people with varied educational and work backgrounds. Besides, their managerial awareness and professional competence vary greatly. Thus, instead of forming heterogeneous groups, by clubbing individuals indiscriminately for the purposes of training, the effort should be to constitute a homogeneous group on the basis of a similar awareness. Then suitable training programmes can be structured for these groups taking into account the representative strengths and weaknesses.
After analyzing the performance of each participant as reflected in his improved attitude and altered approach in the job situation, an assessment can be made about his future training needs. After a suitable time interval, the specific training needs of different individuals can be categorized for the second phase of training. Thus, the ongoing in-house training exercises should continue till a minimum awareness level is achieved
When the officials acquire adequate awareness level through the in-house training methods then they should be deputed for outstation seminars to expose them to broader managerial perspectives. Once the training needs are identified, instead of embarking upon sponsors-nominating-participants route, the facilitating agency should be provided with the curriculum vitae of the prospects so that, depending upon the course curriculum and the participant mix, it can make informed choices about the intakes. This also enables the facilitating agency to nuance its courses to maximize the outcomes.
That is not all for the logical step is to integrate the organizational working into the training grid in such a way that the training becomes the means to an end, that is, organizational efficiency. A systematic training exercises and seminar programmes like the ones discussed above will enable the managements to effectively remove the grain from the bran and identify the eligible personnel to man the management edifice in various capacities well into the future.